I have been with my fiancé for over two years, and we each have three kids from previous marriages. Five of the kids get along great with everyone. However, my fiancé has a 16-year-old son who wants nothing to do with any of us, and I am finding myself not wanting to get him anything for Christmas.
In general, he has a bad attitude, contributes nothing to the household, and doesn’t apply himself in school. Yet he thinks he should be allowed to play sports and be given a car and insurance. This all bothers me, but what bothers me most is the way he treats all the rest of us.
For example, at my own son’s 7th birthday, he begrudgingly showed up to the party, didn’t talk to anybody and left early. I believe he only showed up because he was told that he had to.
When we are together as a family at their house, he doesn’t even come out of his bedroom. He will show up to eat dinner, then immediately leaves without so much as a word. Not even a thank you.
I spent the last two years trying very hard to be kind to him, and to always greet him and include him regardless of his attitude. But recently, I just no longer care about his approval. I am starting to feel that if he wants nothing to do with me or my kids, then I will oblige him.
Last year, I asked him what he would like for Christmas. He gave me no answer. I ended up getting him some card games and “puzzles” for adults, and he purposely left them at my house, so I assume he wasn’t pleased with them. This year, his dad (my fiancé) told me that he wants cash, but I don’t want to hand out cash to all the kids for Christmas. I am contemplating getting him nothing at all.
Your guidance in this matter would be very appreciated.
Just Over It
Dear Over It,
Christmas is not the time to hand him his asinine attitude on a plate.
How would that make you feel? That’s the first, and last, question you must ask yourself. We can speculate how it might make him feel — angry, justified in his bad behavior, hurt, humiliated or glad he doesn’t have to go through the motions anymore — but it’s far more important what effect it will have on you and your family. You are the adult in this situation, and getting into the sand pit with a 16-year-old does not sound like a good idea to me, especially on Christmas Day. You don’t have to take his guff either. “Hey, Greg, I asked you a question. Can you at least answer?”
I ask myself how something makes me feel many times a day when I make big and small decisions: “How does it make me feel?” Sometimes, my Jiminy Cricket is waving a red flag or giving me smoke signals, and I pay attention to that. It helps me make financial decisions that are in my best interest: Saving makes me feel good, spending does (sometimes), and other times I realize I’m spending my emotions — that is, I’m spending money to get a “hit” and cheer myself up, not because I really want or need something. I’ve saved a lot of money that way.
Answering this letter makes me feel good. I hope that I am helping someone, so I endeavor to start or end my day with this column. I pause before sending an email or a text or commenting on a
conversation, and I ask myself that same question. If I feel like I am venting, and I feel that familiar surge of adrenaline because I disagree with someone or want to set them straight about something, I tell myself to stop. If I feel the need to give someone unsolicited advice, I do the same. It’s not always 100% successful. It takes practice.
It’s not up to your 16-year-old to decide how he should behave. It’s up to you to give him boundaries about what is and what is not acceptable. This has nothing to do with Christmas or family dinners, of course. He is a teenager, and that’s a whole set of problems right there, and he appears to have issues with being part of a blended family and having a new authority figure to answer to. Or not, in this case. You and your fiancé could give each other a Christmas present, and have him see a therapist. It may also be better to give him the space he needs. He will grow up in his own time.
Excluding him could take this antipathy into acrimony. It’s OK to ask him what you can do to help you both get along, and it’s OK to say, “Greg, can you make an effort? You’re 16, and I was hoping we could help each other make this work. You have two more years before you go to college. I would like us to get along, even if you’re not ready to be friends.” You don’t have to be super-sweet to him, and you don’t have to be mean to him either. You could just be honest about how you feel, and even appeal to his sense of humor. “This stepmother-stepson standoff is a little cliched, don’t you think?”
This is the beginning of your relationship with your stepson. He wants a check, so give him a check. At least he’ll be less likely to leave it behind.
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